Abubakar Abdullahi explores the concept of identity in it’s entirely and questions how identity is formed and shaped. Is it constructed through culture, the color of our skin or merely our own imagination?
The question of “who am I” can be traced from the genesis of the acknowledgement and recognition of sentience, the ability to have an awareness of internal or external existence. Countless theoreticians have pondered on what the concept of identity entails, is identity simply associated with the body we inhabit? Is it a reflection of the collection of thoughts that reside within us? Do we exhibit different identities exclusive to each other within the different spheres of our life? Such as occupation, cultural and others. Identity is a multi-dimensional concept that can come across as convoluted, given the plethora of perspectives and conceptions of it. Within the following paper, I will give a guideline on the multitude of related disciplinary fields and their conception of what identity can be understood as. These fields stem from and represent the fact that identity can be seen as through a spectrum of dynamic, multifaceted concepts. I will also give my personal account of what I perceive of identity.
Within the field of psychology, identity is commonly used to describe personal identity which is analyzed through the qualities, beliefs, personality, physical appearance or expressions that constitute a person on both an individual level and collective, these aspects mold and influence one another in both a conscious and subconscious form. Within the field of psychology, we are able to gauge on identity through different developmental stages, each of the characteristics detailed above aren’t inherently adopted except physical appearance(as a result of genetic inheritance) but are variables that are sculpted. These features are shaped through our social upbringings which play a cardinal role in identity development, Identity is shaped and takes form in response to the increasingly sophisticated challenges we face as we grow. It is the key reason we are able to distinguish one another, an individual living in Naypyidaw, Myanmar and another in Compton, California will embrace different upbringings in terms of their cultural practices, socio-economic position and even possibly geographical climate zones, this makes them identifiable from one another. Behavioral psychology explains this in a more precise manner, in which our environment shapes our behavior. This could be pinpointed to the slightest variable within a given environment and could be an aspect that one would deem as negligible but have cataclysmic results on identity development. 1 There is also the aspect that we may convey different identities within different spheres of our lives, the identity a man portrays to his wife at home may be different from the identity he takes up in a meeting with a superior at work, this can be seen in aspects such as changes in mannerism in their physical and verbal expressions. These fundamentals of identity in psychology were established by prominent psychology figure Erik Homburger Erikson a German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst renowned for his theory on the psychological development of human beings.
Within the field of philosophy, the concept of identity comes across increasingly more abstract, lucid and slightly detached to the specificities of real-life but drawn from a more self and individualized source. The crux of the matter on personal identity is in relation with the philosophical questions that come to light about ourselves as a result of our being people, meaning the identities we exhibit in our day to day lives. This, however, conflicts with the realities of our true selves that arise by virtue of our being living things, conscious beings. These enquiries are a common reminder of our sentient characteristic with the pondering of aspects like Who/What, am I? When/Why did I begin? What will be of me when I die? Moreover, In relation to the course, intercultural philosophy has a more concentrated conception of identity however theorizing identity still remains complicated. Understanding identity in intercultural philosophy has pre-requisites, the most pivotal point is the ontological necessity to contemporaneously include and exclude specific elements or qualities in order to define either oneself or others. As identity is not independent but social and required other identities to coexist. A perfect example of this can be seen in linguistics, language is also deemed entirely social, no language can be understood if it is solely to one individual.
Lastly is the field of applied linguistics which also takes various standpoint on what is identity. Research within the field primarily in identity in language education has tackled different issues on the topic branching from languages role in ideology, race topics and gender. Given language is a social concept it places emphasis on our interactions with individuals and how they shape us, one’s language is everything when it comes to the expression of identity as without it you cannot express nor learn who you are. On one level each individual within a given society perceives and acquires a language and a set vocabulary however the way in which one individual learns and conceives that language will be different from another as well as the set vocabulary the decide to deploy. Other concepts that come into play are multi-lingual individuals and how the language they express conveys their identity; an individual exhibits the knowledge of two languages one he uses in a domestic sphere while the other in a formal working space. In both instances, the language conveys different identities which can be seen in the minuscule features such as the tone, register and demeanor they display.
I had initially wanted to split my viewpoint on identity into two different parts one academic the other personal; however, I realize that both feed into one another and I cannot prevent my own life experiences affecting my theoretical understanding of the concept. I personally believe identity is entirely exclusive to the emic and a harrowing task to attempt to communicate and create a medium of comprehension for the etic.
This belief is sprouted prominently from my understanding and experience of the concept of subjective experience a metaphorical thought experiment proposed by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his book Philosophical investigations 2, that details no one individuals experience towards a certain thing is the same to another, the felt states and sensations that occur in a person mind from the different ranges of emotion such as pain, love, taste and smell are concepts that nobody can communicate sufficiently to share and reveal their experiences to others. I deduced this to mean that our experiences and sensations that shape our identity are incredibly varied, there may be two individuals who shared the same social-upbringing within a particular environment, but both displays varied identities as a result of their subjective experience. Which is why there is always a degree of inaccuracy when we attempt to communicate our experience no matter how different or similar, there comes the point in which we reach the limits of our language, a sensation and perspective beyond words.
Although I believe this difficulty in medium of exchange should not drive us to differences and segregation but act as a linchpin in bridging our inquiries and curiosity of others and hopefully subsequent unification. I believe when one attempts to understand the other, we should view their world through the lenses of cultural relativism in order to aid us in grasping what makes them who they truly are. However I still heavily lean on the framework of psychology in seeing our social upbringings having an essential core role in shaping us, I also see identity categorized into numerous layers and branches such as qualities, beliefs, personality, physical appearance and far more.
Erikson, Erik H. Identity, Youth, and Crisis. London: Faber & Faber, 1983.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigation, Generally Known as the Blue and Brown Books. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.